Local Papers Debate Going Mobile
By Eric Lin, Wed Feb 04 03:30:00 GMT 2004

A few local papers in the United States are setting up mobile friendly websites for their subscribers. While mobile news sites may be popular in Europe and Asia, the US seems to be slow to adopt these new services- as usual.

Newspapers and Technology focuses on two newspapers, one covering a Seattle, WA suburb, the other in Orlando, FL that each have chosen to implement a mobile-friendly version of their websites. Adoption is slow for both these sites and neither paper has been able to attract advertising for the mobile version. Representatives from both papers extol the virtues of CSS, and how easy it makes creating a mobile site from their standard content and design. Each also describes the apparent failure of AvantGo once they began charging sites to publish using their service.

Because these mobile sites had low visitor stats, it has been difficult to sell advertising for them. Without any ad revenue, Newspapers and Technology recommended publishers bide their time until mobile data consumption in the US catches up to the rest of the world. However they are not particularly bullish on the prospect, citing of all things the weak adoption of the N-Gage.

Instead of assuming all Americans are resistant to mobile data usage because the N-Gage didn't sell well, a little research tells a different story. As with all mobile services, the US tends to lag behind and like all trends here, even mobile data usage seems to be starting in the large cities on each coast and spreading inward. A quick check of major cities reveals that the major papers all offer mobile sites, at least as AvantGo channels, though most offer mobile HTML separately and a few like the New York Times and Seattle Post Intelligencer even offer WAP. Even USA Today, the newspaper of the lowest common denominator, offers a mobile version. The article neglects to interview or even mention any of these examples.

By concentrating solely on current stats and conditions, the article neglects to prepare publications for new high speed data services launching this year across the country. While focusing on the short term and biding their time, analog publications are missing their opportunity to build and polish user-friendly mobile sites before demand makes this task more difficult. If it's already happening on the US Coasts, and it's happened abroad, mobile data will eventually happen in Middle America.